The Face of Authoritarian Environmentalism

Kari Norgaard

From the Daily Mail:

An Oregon University professor has controversially compared skepticism of global warming to racism.

Sociology and environmental studies professor Kari Norgaard wrote a paper criticising non-believers, suggesting that doubters have a ‘sickness’.

The professor, who holds a B.S. in biology and a master’s and PhD in sociology, argued that ‘cultural resistance’ to accepting humans as being responsible for climate change ‘must be recognised and treated’ as an aberrant sociological behaviour.

Really? Doubters have an illness? Isn’t pathologising dissidents a hallmark of authoritarianism? Weren’t dissidents under the Soviet Union often sent to psychiatric hospitals to be “treated” for their behaviour? Hasn’t Norgaard read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago?

And really “doubters” could mean a lot of things. Does it solely mean those who believe climate change is not happening? What about climate agnostics? Does it mean those who believe that climate change is happening but that it is not man-made? Does it mean those who believe that it is happening, but who disagree with Norgaard’s proposed solutions?:

Norgaard last week attended the annual four-day ‘Planet Under Pressure’ international conference in London, where she presented her controversial paper to delegates on Wednesday.

The scientists behind the event recently put out a statement calling for humans to be packed into denser cities so that the rest of the planet can be surrendered to mother nature.

And fellow attendee Yale University professor Karen Seto told MSNBC: ‘We certainly don’t want them (humans) strolling about the entire countryside. We want them to save land for nature by living closely [together].

And does it include those (including me) who believe that man-made climate change is happening  — and has been happening for thousands of years — but that it seems to broadly be a good thing?

From the BBC:

Human emissions of carbon dioxide will defer the next Ice Age, say scientists.

The last Ice Age ended about 11,500 years ago, and when the next one should begin has not been entirely clear.

Researchers used data on the Earth’s orbit and other things to find the historical warm interglacial period that looks most like the current one.

In the journal Nature Geoscience, they write that the next Ice Age would begin within 1,500 years – but emissions have been so high that it will not.

Certainly, if human emissions keep the Earth warmer than the pre-civilisation cycle (i.e. widespread cyclical glaciation), that would appear to be a good thing in the long run for human civilisation.

And what about my position that an ultra-complex (and arguably stochastic) system like the climate is not meaningfully modellable, and therefore that climate certainty is impossible? While it seems to make sense that higher levels of atmospheric CO2 will produce higher temperatures, and while there are a myriad of simplified models out there that seem to suggest the same thing, there is no substitute for long-term empirical evidence, of which we have very little. In a system as complex as the Earth’s climate, there could be a whole swathe of effects that we have not yet identified that could drastically change the outcome (for better, or for worse). For Norgaard, does an understanding of the limitations of probabilistic modelling constitute a mental illness? Should I be committed to treatment to “cure” me of my beliefs?

Because that is what Norgaard’s words lead me to believe. And that sounds worryingly like Neo-Stalinism.

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127 thoughts on “The Face of Authoritarian Environmentalism

  1. These academic priests are well paid and protected. They get free plublicity and constitute a Church. All heretics get shut down, the power elite are pushing the man made global warming agenda because they want to increase state power and centralized planning.
    Some of the extremists want to cull human populations see the neo malthusians followers of Thomas Malthus.

    • Yes neo-Malthusianism is a great threat to our liberties. Not that I would take away the right of neo-Malthusians to spread their ideas, nor would I brand them mentally ill, which is precisely what this professor is happy to do to those who disagree with her.

      • What is different here from ‘creationism’, for example, with respect to the process of education? Should someone who propounds these views be teaching?

        • We don’t know the limits to growth, and most historical estimates have been wrong.

          How many times does the Club of Rome have to be wrong for us to understand that?

        • The history of Malthusian thought is a history of being wrong.

          From the Economist:

          Forecasters of scarcity and doom are not only invariably wrong, they think that being wrong proves them right.

          IN 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus inaugurated a grand tradition of environmentalism with his best-selling pamphlet on population. Malthus argued with impeccable logic but distinctly peccable premises that since population tended to increase geometrically (1,2,4,8 ) and food supply to increase arithmetically (1,2,3,4 ), the starvation of Great Britain was inevitable and imminent. Almost everybody thought he was right. He was wrong.

          In 1865 an influential book by Stanley Jevons argued with equally good logic and equally flawed premises that Britain would run out of coal in a few short years’ time. In 1914, the United States Bureau of Mines predicted that American oil reserves would last ten years. In 1939 and again in 1951, the Department of the Interior said American oil would last 13 years. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

          This article argues that predictions of ecological doom, including recent ones, have such a terrible track record that people should take them with pinches of salt instead of lapping them up with relish. For reasons of their own, pressure groups, journalists and fame-seekers will no doubt continue to peddle ecological catastrophes at an undiminishing speed. These people, oddly, appear to think that having been invariably wrong in the past makes them more likely to be right in the future. The rest of us might do better to recall, when warned of the next doomsday, what ever became of the last one.

          In 1972 the Club of Rome published a highly influential report called “Limits to Growth”. To many in the environmental movement, that report still stands as a beacon of sense in the foolish world of economics. But were its predictions borne out?

          “Limits to Growth” said total global oil reserves amounted to 550 billion barrels. “We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade,” said President Jimmy Carter shortly afterwards. Sure enough, between 1970 and 1990 the world used 600 billion barrels of oil. So, according to the Club of Rome, reserves should have been overdrawn by 50 billion barrels by 1990. In fact, by 1990 unexploited reserves amounted to 900 billion barrels—not counting the tar shales, of which a single deposit in Alberta contains more than 550 billion barrels.

          The Club of Rome made similarly wrong predictions about natural gas, silver, tin, uranium, aluminium, copper, lead and zinc. In every case, it said finite reserves of these minerals were approaching exhaustion and prices would rise steeply. In every case except tin, known reserves have actually grown since the Club’s report; in some cases they have quadrupled. “Limits to Growth” simply misunderstood the meaning of the word “reserves”.

          The Club of Rome’s mistakes have not tarnished its confidence. It more recently issued to wide acclaim “Beyond the Limits”, a book that essentially said: although we were too pessimistic about the future before, we remain equally pessimistic about the future today. But environmentalists have been a little more circumspect since 1990 about predicting the exhaustion of minerals. That year, a much-feted environmentalist called Paul Ehrlich, whose words will prove an inexhaustible (though not infinite: there is a difference) reserve of misprediction for this article, sent an economist called Julian Simon a cheque for $570.07 in settlement of a wager.

          Dr Ehrlich would later claim that he was “goaded into making a bet with Simon on a matter of marginal environmental importance.” At the time, though, he said he was keen to “accept Simon’s astonishing offer before other greedy people jump in.” Dr Ehrlich chose five minerals: tungsten, nickel, copper, chrome and tin. They agreed how much of these metals $1,000 would buy in 1980, then ten years later recalculated how much that amount of metal would cost (still in 1980 dollars) and Dr Ehrlich agreed to pay the difference if the price fell, Dr Simon if the price rose. Dr Simon won easily; indeed, he would have won even if they had not adjusted the prices for inflation, and he would have won if Dr Ehrlich had chosen virtually any mineral: of 35 minerals, 33 fell in price during the 1980s.

        • “The history of Malthusian thought is a history of being wrong.”

          But this statement alone contains absolutely no useful information whatsoever as to the future. On the contrary, it seems to invite people to be complacent just because some people concerned about the scarcity of resources have been wrong in the past. I much prefer an approach where we look at the data (& also try to learn from our past mistakes) and try not to incorporate too much wishful thinking into our predictions, and then act accordingly (whether “act accordingly” might be interpreted as Malthusian or not by some, I don’t care).

        • This Malthusian vs. anti-Malthusian thing reminds me of the Taleb distribution (an idea I had myself after I read his Black Swan book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taleb_distribution

          Anti-Malthusians are happily exploring the vast plains of abundant wealth that apparently lay in front of our eyes (cause we’d be stupid if we don’t, wouldn’t we?) whereas the Malthusians are concerned about the sharp cliff that might await us if we continue to explore these plains without a worry (this sharp cliff being hidden from our view, though still somewhere at the end of those plains nonetheless).

          If we act w.r.t. environmentalism as we do w.r.t. the economy, my guess is we’ll fall off that sharp cliff at some point. I described my approach above, and it’s an approach that would err on the side of caution (by not extrapolating to the future things that are based on imperfect models – like human ingenuity – this is the not incorporating too much wishful thinking into our predictions part) – so some would describe this approach as slightly paranoid and probably too Malthusian for their taste (though these are only labels, and I don’t care).

        • Malthusian crises are the opposite of a black swan. A black swan is something that is unpredicted, and which then happens. Malthusian crises have been endlessly predicted, and then have not happened. It’s a sea-monster, or a yeti or a dragon. A creature that has been a figment of society’s imagination, but which has not yet emerged. I should coin a phrase: they are black dragons.

          It is not physically impossible, I suppose. But I do not think there is any good measure that can effectively predict this kind of crisis. And of course it is very important to think about resource availability/scarcity both as individuals and as a society. But Malthusianism: specifically, predicting impending doom without having anywhere near a full and comprehensive rundown of the real facts has always been wrong, and I think there is a very good reason for this.

          There are many risks to society, but I do not think they are what we think they are (black dragons). They are mainly true black swans.

        • “Malthusian crises are the opposite of a black swan. A black swan is something that is unpredicted, and which then happens. Malthusian crises have been endlessly predicted, and then have not happened.”

          I don’t think so – depends who’s predicting and who’s expecting. As Taleb always says, Thanksgiving is a Black Swan only to the poor turkey, not to the 300 million Americans. And neither the GFC was a Black Swan for many savvy investors. Also, the GFC has been endlessly predicted by many other stopped-clock-right-twice-a-day type of analysts. Anyway, I don’t care about “Malthusianism” which is a loaded term and we rarely if ever know what we’re actually talking about, but I stick to my above way of looking at this – which as I said, will probably be interpreted as “Malthusian” and paranoid, but I think it’s the sound way of looking at things.

        • Actually I have never really considered the GFC itself as a black swan at all. I know black swans are somewhat subjective, but I tend to think of them as more (much more) obscure, like Fukushima or Chernobyl. There was a black swan in the GFC, which was the collapse of AIG due to derivatives counter-party failure.

          I personally believe it is very important to have an awareness of the resource needs of society, and the prospect that this could be endangered. At the same time, I am guarded against making gloomy predictions of imminent doom — unlike the Club of Rome, etc — mainly because I recognise the limits of my information.

        • “I tend to think of them as more (much more) obscure, like Fukushima or Chernobyl”. But now you’re straying from the right path of Talebism :P For Taleb anything can be a Black Swan as long we define the population to be blackswanized and the actual event. Anyway, even Fukushima wasn’t that obscure to begin with if we just consider the Japanese guaranteed the constructions against earthquakes like those that happened during the last ~500 years, and then bang it came one that hasn’t happened in like ~1400 (approximate numbers).

    • You really don’t have a clue. I see people here either pontificating about the science they don’t actually understand, or ranting about collectivism or some other irrelevancy. Take a long and honest look at the data and you’ll come to the same conclusion virtually every climatologist has. This isn’t any kind of tyranny so please leave the inflammatory rhetoric out and consider that this is peer reviewed science and if it were easy to refute every new Ph.D. would be looking to make a name for her/him-self by refuting it. Rather than take the empirical evidence for what it is, you spin out conspiracy theories based upon nonsense from the blogosphere. There isn’t any part of global warming that isn’t completely credible from a physics standpoint and the data is highly compelling and support the hypothesis.

      Worse, so many of you are attacking practicing scientists because you don’t like they’re findings and you respond by slandering them. Try being just a little circumspect. It is truly disgusting to see intellectual bankruptcy of the right-wing. For you honest skeptics who haven’t really looked at the data or don’t have the expertise to understand it, please watch Richard Muller’s (professor and one time skeptic, hired in part with a grant from Koch brothers) video on youtube on global warming. If you do have a science or engineering background, read some actual scientific papers on the subject and spend a few evenings looking over the data and proxy data. Develop an understanding of the processes and phenomena your so certain isn’t happening. And please, don’t let a fraud like “Lord” Monckton fool you. He has no scientific training nor expertise.

      • There isn’t any part of global warming that isn’t completely credible from a physics standpoint and the data is highly compelling and support the hypothesis.

        Nope.

        I don’t care about credentials, I care about understanding of the philosophical point that we can’t really project the overall causal effects of our impact upon nonlinear dynamic stochastic systems. I agree that humans are having some effect, but we can’t know the full extent of that effect into the future (and the extent of the effect thus far) nor the full implications of these effects. I agree that we should minimise our impact but it is foolish and dangerous to push authoritarian policy solutions that try to brand others mentally ill or degenerate, and that that is an insult to honest climate scientists.

        And by the way, science is about investigation and falsification, not consensus. I think that the overall impact could in fact turn out to be beneficial by staving off the ice age cycle (and that is a view supported by historical data), and I may well be right — neither of us know for sure.

        • And by the way, science is about investigation and falsification, not consensus.

          Actually, IMO, there’s a grain of truth in what he said. Maybe a slightly big one. There’s no 100% falsifiable descriptive statement that science can make. Most of science is about converging towards some core theories which if denied would imply some pie in the sky theories that cannot even be contemplated (or even described). I don’t want this to sound like mysticism (i.e. therefore a Spaghetti Monster religion is equally correct) because that would be a stupid interpretation of what I said. We have no better tools than the scientific method to reach the truth, but it’s not foolproof. We can always be the victim of a very long con (and we have to keep this in mind).

        • “There’s no 100% falsifiable descriptive statement” should be more like “There’s no 100% correct descriptive statement” because the first one sounds kind of confused (maybe I’ll come up with a better one).

        • Andrei you sound confused. Have you read Popper? Of course there are no 100% correct theories. That’s what falsification is about; weeding out bad theories and bad aspects in good theories. All falsification can do is point you in the right direct, it doesn’t pretend to truth or fact, it just shows untruth and unfact.

          And that is precisely why I am so dubious of “consensus”. Science is not about consensus, it never has been and it never will be, it is about falsification. If people aren’t buying the anthropogenic global warming explanation or its supposed implications scientists need to spend more time falsifying alternatives.

        • No, I haven’t read Popper, though I’m familiar with his theories. And I prefer a discussion in which we do not drop names of people and names of theories from the sky, but one in which we actually look at how things work. I think my above comment pretty much sums up how I see things working – I could of course write a thorough article expanding on my views with examples etc. but I don’t have time for that (though maybe I’ll do it one day). When you’re saying “If people aren’t buying the anthropogenic global warming explanation”, we should perhaps define who are the people. People on the street who have no clue about science shouldn’t be considered as being worth listening to just because the subject of global warming sounds easier to tackle for the layman.

        • The people, the consensus and the context don’t really matter, it’s the ideas and facts that matter. AGW-believers need to falsify the beliefs of AGW-deniers (and also vice verse). That is how they can win the argument.

        • “Falsifiability” is a useful and interesting concept, but I don’t think the whole of science should be limited so as to be seen only through this concept and Popper’s ideas (how did the poor scientists do science before Popper came along?).

        • Well science was done by trying to prove stuff before, and Popper made the philosophical point that you can’t really prove anything beyond a shadow of a doubt, but you can disprove things.

        • PS: My comments stem from a purely philosophical interest in understanding the world. I don’t really care about environmentalism and global warming, I merely engaged in the discussion when I saw things of interest. That’s why, as you can see, I’m perfectly calm and willing to accept anything that can be of interest to me, as well as willing to drop any preconceived notions I might have.

        • PS 2: And why not, I am confused many times (I was particularly tired when I wrote my initial comment – as I still am now), but confusion will never stop me from abandoning budding intuitions – or deleting them from my memory simply because they do not “match” 100% with everything else I have in my head. I don’t desperately seek certainty, and more often than not I live with confusion and hunches and generally in my own world of ideas (not juggling with other people’s concepts – except for when I notice similarities). This can be problematic, of course, and one would be advised to brush up those budding intuitions before presenting them publicly (but I dream of a place like those in ancient Greece where people can engage in discussions in an honest pursuit of truth, without care for glory or ego).

        • Thanks, though I feel there’s some irony there :P But I don’t care; it seems that usually people just talk past each other, each keeping to his own views. When there’s shocking controversy, at least we know we’re actually talking. And people are actually talking when there’s actually a chance they might doubt or change their views.

        • For me it is much easier, because by default I live in doubt. I actually change my views quite often without having to be prodded from outside. And I never actually try to persuade anyone of a certain truth; if I’m arguing, I’m actually defending what I hold in my heart of hearts as the truth.

  2. You now sound like myself when I said that we might just as well be frontrunning Mother Nature as she doesn’t care one bit about the human species. But now I can apply your response and say that we should be careful as we don’t know what lies behind the corner (if we just rely on modelling that says up until now all appears to have been beneficial).

    • This Marxist principle appears to have taken hold in scientific community as regards global warming/ global weirding/ climate change.

      From Wikipedia:

      Democratic centralism is the name given to the principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties, and the term is sometimes used as a synonym for any Leninist policy inside a political party. The democratic aspect of this organizational method describes the freedom of members of the political party to discuss and debate matters of policy and direction, but once the decision of the party is made by majority vote, all members are expected to uphold that decision.

  3. This is another one of those issues where I begin to depart from Libertarianism. I’m sorry, man, but you’re an economist – not a scientist, a biologist or a physicist. And frankly, just about all them agree that there are global climate issues that warrant our concern. It’s funny the mental gymnastics we put ourselves through to disagree with scientists on this one issue, yet they are trusted and revered, rightfully so, in just about other every aspect of science. We trust our cars, our t.v.s , our airplanes, our bridges and skyscrapers because of scientists — but god forbid they start to suggest the party of 3 percent growth for all eternity may need to be rethought due to environmental concerns — and all of the sudden the same scientists are crocks, or they are part of some “statist” conspiracy. That one blows me away! Sometimes the simple question ” why would they lie” needs to be asked and thought on. What on God’s green earth ( ok I’m an atheist ;)) do most of these scientists have to gain by lying about climate change and startling everyone? Most of them have no connection to a politician. And for those that do, is it such bad thing if the situation demands our immediate attention? Obviously in the latter case we should be mindful of what the politicians are going to do, but to simply deny everything is outrageous. I’m sorry, but I trust the scientists that build and sustain our world more than the business guy that asserts that he knows the solutions when he is really looking out for his business. And also, the hyperbole about Eco-terrorism and Eco-totalitarianism does no one favors, and is usually predicated on ridiculous straw man arguments.

    • Well I am not saying any scientist is deliberately lying, although certainly I think some politicians (who again probably do not very well understand the science) have hypocritically exploited the science for political gain (I won’t name any names, but let’s just say their algorithms may be flawed…).

      So this is not me attacking any specific scientific research. I am taking issue with certain scientists pathologising those who disagree with them.

      Let me just reiterate my position:

      Yup, global climate issues warrant our concern.

      Yup, we should take care of the climate.

      Yup, the Earth’s climate is probably changing and humans are probably responsible (although its extent and its effects are by no means certain)

      Nope, that is still not an excuse for neo-Malthusianism or authoritarianism or the stifling of dissent, or most insultingly of all the pathologisation of criticism.

      • “Nope, that is still not an excuse for neo-Malthusianism or authoritarianism or the stifling of dissent, or most insultingly of all the pathologisation of criticism.”

        Cut the histrionics, Aziz! Rofl! One odd looking professor (no offense to her) says something about the environment, you take her out of context, then use that as evidence to justify your hyperbolic statements??! Too funny. Most of these so called Eco dictators don’t have an ounce of the power you would imply they do! cheers mate!

        • Yeah, you’re the one being hyperbolic.

          Ehrlich and Holdren are taken very seriously in the corridors of power, and Holdren — a noted neo-Malthusian — is Obama’s science czar. I have no idea over whom this woman is influential, but the fact that she is blankly suggesting that people who disagree with her are suffering from a mental illness is an insult to all the good climate scientists (it should be noted that she is not a climate scientist but a sociologist) who work hard to try and understand the Earth’s climate, and all the inventors and technicians out there who are trying to come up with real and workable ways to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming before it becomes excessive.

        • Aziz, fair point on the mental illness bit and the fact the woman’s a sociologist. But as to the power point. I just feel like none of these people are offering the catastrophic environmental totalitarianism you suggest, are as influential as you suggest, or are as numerous as you suggest. I can say the same thing about the Koch brother’s, sheldon addelson, Mitt Romney, Bill gates; any powerful person with a lot of money really can ruin the political system, and frankly I’m more worried about what they would do with power than environmentalist. I hope you won’t demur and say its just an issue of cronyism – sure that’s true- but the bigger thing is that libertarians are in favor of less regulation and so are crony capitalists. I know you personally believe in certain kinds of regulation, but many Libertarianism are nebulous at best when this is brought up.

    • two things for Jon:

      Most all of the communists in the USA rallied to the environmental movement when their core political philosophy was totally discredited two decades ago (probably as well around the rest of the world).

      Most of the research grants for climate scientists would dry up if the consensus were that we don’t have a lot to worry about, so the scientists have strong economic incentives to suggest we are creating the end of the world.

      • “Most all of the communists in the USA rallied to the environmental movement when their core political philosophy was totally discredited two decades ago (probably as well around the rest of the world).”

        So what? There are also racist libertarians, what’s your point?

        “Most of the research grants for climate scientists would dry up if the consensus were that we don’t have a lot to worry about, so the scientists have strong economic incentives to suggest we are creating the end of the world.”

        And doctors have strong economic incentives to inject us with influenza every time we go in for a check up to ensure we keep coming back.

    • “What on God’s green earth ( ok I’m an atheist ) do most of these scientists have to gain by lying about climate change and startling everyone?”

      Ummm… Tenure and book sales?

      Next easy question.

      • It’s not such an easy question if think beyond your reflexive libertarian response. The issue I have with Libertarianism, and I like a lot of it also, is that it holds that govts should protect rights and property as self-evident. Now I don’t take issue with the protecting of rights and property, just libertarian logic. Libertarians seem to dog everything the govt does, accept for protecting rights and property. Besides the fact that you could look at everything else the govt does as a version of protecting rights and property (it’s just a matter of whose), where do libertarians derive their trust? You don’t trust govt, accept you do when it comes to property and rights. You don’t trust scientists, accept you do when they tell you what you want to hear and reaffirm your beliefs. Some people, like you, make Libertarianism seem untenable on the grounds of reductio ad absurdum. Why trust anyone? Why not be anarchist? I mean physics and all our universities become untrustworthy when they don’t fit into the libertarian schema, but that’s absurd! We now have to be skeptical of NASA – a govt agency with the to the world’s best intellectual capital; the top universities ; the mid range universities, all universities! – because libertarians know best, govt is always wrong, and certain kinds of economists and business men know better than mathematicians and physicists – who invented the models that economistsuse btw! So, again, where to do you derive trust?

        • I am not really a libertarian (the strongest you can say is libertarian-leaning) but yes it is absolutely healthy to distrust and critique things and ideas, and especially authority. There will always be people in society who believe in centralisation and power, and it is the libertarian role to try and counterbalance such forces. To some extent this will tend to mean playing devil’s advocate, which is what I am doing in this piece.

          I also think that the point of libertarianism (certainly the form of libertarianism that I am sympathetic to) was never that “libertarians know best”, but more “question everything”. I read shitloads of stuff I disagree with and I always try and empathise with different views. It’s not my fault other people don’t.

        • Libertarians do seem to put a lot of faith in Scientists associated with The Heartland Institute however.

          And what of the liberty of the property owner next to the factory which poisons their water or soil, or causes their rain to be toxic. Libertarianism seems only to concern itself with liberty of the few.

          It seems to me that Aziz has a justifiable concern with the language of this scientist, the prospect of Authoritarianism concerns me also, but in the real world, it is in legislation currently before the US govt, supported wholeheartedly by both sides of the establishment that I see it actually expressing itself, NDAA anyone.. Or nuclear drones?

          Environmentalists are the least of our worries.

        • Wouldn’t it have been funny if concerned scientists in the medieval ages went around the world, convincing all the powerful monarchs that they should pass a law that forbade going farther than 200 miles into the atlantic — on the basis that the earth was flat and that the insuing loss of the ship and the crew when it plumetted to the god-knows-what depths-of-the-end-of-the-earth would be a loss to humanity and god?

          They knew best at the time I’m sure, but we know better now don’t we?

          Hey, let’s pack all humans into tigh mega-cities to save the earth – forget the possibility that soylent-green mega-cities could cause new deseases to emerge, even more problematic waste-disposal problems and who knows what other problems. It doesn’t matter because: Hey we know best don’t we?

      • Sorry for the re-post, friend! Had some typos in the last one and made this one easier to read, cheers!

        t’s not such an easy question if you think beyond your reflexive libertarian response. The issue I have with Libertarianism, and I like a lot of it also, is that it holds that govts should protect rights and property as self-evident. Now I don’t take issue with the protecting of rights and property, just libertarian logic. Libertarians seem to dog everything the govt does, accept for protecting rights and property.

        Besides the fact that you could look at everything else the govt does as a version of protecting rights and property (it’s just a matter of whose), where do libertarians derive their trust? You don’t trust govt, accept you do when it comes to property and rights. You don’t trust scientists, accept you do when they tell you what you want to hear and reaffirm your beliefs. Some people, like you, make Libertarianism seem untenable on the grounds of reductio ad absurdum.

        Why trust anyone? Why not be anarchist? I mean physics and all our universities become untrustworthy when they don’t fit into the libertarian schema, but that’s absurd! We now have to be skeptical of NASA – a govt agency with access to the world’s best intellectual capital; the top universities ; the mid range universities, all universities! – because libertarians know best, govt is always wrong, and certain kinds of economists and business men know better than mathematicians and physicists – who invented the models economists use btw! So, again, where to do you derive trust?

      • Any recognised climate scientist, who announced the Koch brothers et all are right, and there is no global warming, would become a millionaire in very short time.
        Their books would sell by barrowload, and they’d be offerred professorships at private US universities by the dozen.
        Next.

        • Next? Are you agreeing with me? You just proved my point! There is more incentive to lie on behalf of people like the Koch brothers than there is to exaggerate the effects of global warming on behalf of the “state.” Next!

        • It’s a little complex. What is more of a incentive, the admiration of your colleagues, and a good chunk of UN funding, or the loss of the admiration of your colleagues and a bigger chunk of Koch funding?

          I’d like to hope that neither such thing is enough of an incentive to encourage scientists to exaggerate positions, or depart from the truth, but I doubt it.

        • Yes Jon, I am agreeing with you.
          In response to azziz’s point , i’m quite suprised there HASN’T been a scientist ready to break ranks and take the koch shilling. I think there’s a lot more integrity in science and academia (possibly with the exception of economists?) than we imagine.
          We’ve grown so used to the prostitution of ideas that we’re suprised when we run into it, and can no longer recognise credibility when we see it.

        • Seems to me there are far more research grants in “green-think” (a concept some embrace to such an extent that it could be called paranoia) than promoting the status quo.

          Would you like to pay a consultant you hired to tell you “don’t do a thing”? Wouldn’t that make you feel like you wasted your money? So in that sense green-think scientists have an incentive to come up with suggestions and actions to be taken, to value their questionable professions.

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  5. So, we should wait thousands of years for more empirical evidence and just hope that what 97% of scientists are telling us is happening right now might not be happening?

    Till then we should enjoy global warming because it’s preventing the next Ice Age the start of which I guess somehow is NOT predicted by climate models lacking enough empirical data?

    Sheer f*cking genius.

    Wow.

    You just have embarrassed yourself to a level some might consider legendary.

    But go ahead, keep making fun of that professor.

    • The glaciation cycle is a scientific fact recorded in tree rings, ice cores, etc, and just as much a fact as the 100ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 in the last 100 years.

      Interglacial periods are short and rare. A boost in global CO2 levels — and one which is calculated to stave off the next glacial period — is a good thing for human civilisation, so long as we do not let ourselves get into a cycle of runaway global warming.

      Low carbon technologies are becoming more profitable, and most businesses will switch over by the end of the century. Yes, we will experience some global weirding. While I think a comprehensive comparative cost/benefit analysis is basically impossible, it seems to follow that that is potentially much less damaging to civilisation than glaciation. Our hunter gatherer ancestors were badly impacted by the last glaciation.

      • The only things considered “facts” in science are repeatable, observable phenomena.

        If not of the above, it falls into what the scientific world would call “theory”.

        Repeatable, observable measurements of CO2 levels are facts.

        Ideas on how glacial ice ages develop are not. They are theories.

        The observable part is the key.

        That is why no matter how many fossils we find, evolution will always be a theory.

        Mankind was not there to witness prehistoric life. Nor did it record the climactic conditions of the Ice Age.

        What we observe about the glacial cycle and what you consider fact is also theory, theory that – I would assume – also rises to the same levels(~97%) of acceptance among the scientific community as do theories on mankind’s effect upon climate.

        So, which is it?

        There’s enough scientific consensus around the Ice Age/glacial theory but not enough about the global warming even though both have near identical acceptance/adherence levels among the scientific community.

        This is what you’re saying.

        Does not compute.

        • This paragraph was meant to read:

          There’s enough scientific consensus around the Ice Age/glacial theory but not enough about the global warming theory even though both have near identical acceptance/adherence levels among the scientific community.

        • I’m not talking about ideas on how ice ages develop. I am talking about the observed fact that there is an ice age cycle, that this ice age cycle is correlated with atmospheric CO2, that we are in an interglacial period, and that the last period of glaciation was very cruel to human society and set our ancestors back a long way.

          My view on man-made global warming is complex and nuanced. I believe it is happening, but what’s more I believe it has been happening on a smaller scale since human agriculture really took off 6,000 years ago. I think that preventing another cycle of glaciation required a significant output of CO2 into the atmosphere. Possibly things are going to go too far, which is why I think it is really important we develop low carbon technologies now.

          The scary thing is that my view, which is by no means is climate “denialism” or whatever — and which is basically just an unconventional interpretation of the widely accepted evidence — would probably make me “insane” according to this sociologist who believes that she has the right to judge those who disagree with her as insane.

  6. Libertarians do seem to put a lot of faith in Scientists associated with The Heartland Institute however.

    And what of the liberty of the property owner next to the factory which poisons their water or soil, or causes their rain to be toxic. Libertarianism seems only to concern itself with liberty of the few.

    It seems to me that Aziz has a justifiable concern with the language of this scientist, the prospect of Authoritarianism concerns me also, but in the real world, it is in legislation currently before the US govt, supported wholeheartedly by both sides of the establishment that I see it actually expressing itself, NDAA anyone? Or nuclear drones?

    Environmentalists are the least of our worries.

    • Yes of course the NDAA, and Obama’s policy of extrajudicial assassination are very scary. But I think the idea of associating disagreement with a consensus with mental illness is just as scary. Because there are lots of historical precedents where people have been abused and stripped of their rights having been dubbed “insane” due to their worldview. We should be vigilant against these types of thought.

      • Agreed, and Authoritarianism should always be resisted. But it – her proposal – doesn’t change whether or not AGW is happening or not.

        If it is, then we need to act, not as she suggests I agree. But of coarse those who have utilised the libertarian political movement in order to maintain the status quo and therefore their bottom line – oil industry pretty libertarian friendly eh, unless you own land on coast of Golf of Mexico – will continue to fight action and sponsor scientists and fight action based on the idea of liberty. And perhaps at the terrible expense if my children’s future, and liberty

        Political Theology is not greater than physical reality. Precautionary principle anybody? Given the stakes.

  7. “I’m not talking about ideas on how ice ages develop. I am talking about the observed fact that there is an ice age cycle, that this ice age cycle is correlated with atmospheric CO2, that we are in an interglacial period, and that the last period of glaciation was very cruel to human society and set our ancestors back a long way.”

    The above is all theory especially the cruelty to humans part.

    Seriously, climate denialists/creationists are very clever at taking advantage of the public’s inability to differentiate between “fact” and “theory”.

    Sure, the scientific community may agree – at least 97% of them – with the theories you cite on ice age cycles, CO2 levels, etc (except the one about cruelty to humans, what’s the scientific standard for “cruelty”) but then why such a fuss about theories on the man-made effects of global warming which are accepted at the same rate by the scientific community?

    Yes, the lady is exasperated but put yourself in the shoes of say a paleontologist confronting a creationist.

    Fossils are “facts” that God created all of life at the same time, right?

    And all you as a paleontologist can rejoinder with is the lame “theory” of evolution.

    This woman’s a scientist – although everyone seems to just LOOOOOVE to mock the social sciences like say, economics, huh? – and she should be rightfully indignant about people who don’t use the scientific method and terms correctly.

    • I suppose I should clarify the term “cruel”, because yes it is a literary and not scientific term, but it does represent the fact that during the last ice age the evidence does strongly suggest that global human population dropped off significantly, suggesting that a colder world was significantly less liveable than the warmer present. And that is ignoring the hard-to-quantify implications a colder world would have on modern civilisation, e.g. lower crop yields, shorter growing season, fewer sea routes, harder to work outside,etc.

      I find people’s incomprehensions of certain pieces of theory to be infuriating too, by the way. Take for example many scientists’ insistence that they can effectively model stochastic systems using what are effectively linear models when again and again complexity trumps their prognostications and we get events which are effectively predicted by heuristics (e.g. GFC 2007-8 predicted by “non-empirical” Austrian economics) but to which models (e.g. DSGE, New Classic models) are totally oblivious. But I do not pathologise those who disagree with me, or imply they have no right to say what they do.

  8. She does look scary with those teeth of her… lol

    But they do have a point. Human beings selfish activities do need to be regulated by authority.

    Just look at What China have done to themselves and their own environment! They didn’t care before but now they care because most of them are affected by bad air, pollution, and acid rains. Then there are mudslides, floods and sinking pot holes on high ways and villages. Big mess every where. Oh don’t forget the droughts and major rivers turned into grass field. Foul smelly Garbage mountains surrounded cities…… etc etc.

    • China is the king of “regulating behaviour” via authority, ricecake. As is very often the case with central planning, China during the communist era regulated personal behaviour, consumption, etc, and completely failed to regulate environmental destruction.

      To have effective centralised regulation, the central planner must be a genius, otherwise they will end up regulating the wrong thing, and not regulating the dangerous thing. Very, very, very often they are not a genius and screw up.

      • You are right the account that “they regulate the wrong things”

        China is indeed the king of regulation but China have not been regulating environment protection nearly enough. The CCP government is always hungry and thirsty for money and power control and environment protection isn’t one of that because there aren’t much profit to be make. On the contrary, destroying the environment freely to get GDP flying is just what they do. Thousands local governments have been all excited playing games of sacrificing environment for GDP growing for personal gains. There are lots of regulation in China but environment protection isn’t (wasn’t) one of them. At least in the not far past.

  9. “We need to get some broad based support,
    to capture the public’s imagination…
    So we have to offer up scary scenarios,
    make simplified, dramatic statements
    and make little mention of any doubts…
    Each of us has to decide what the right balance
    is between being effective and being honest.”

    - Prof. Stephen Schneider,
    Stanford Professor of Climatology, IPCC author

  10. My view is that modern science is, and should be, about developing solutions to problems, including those problems created by human advancement and growth. Progressives (what a misnomer for that movement) seem to be stuck in the classical mode of viewing human activity as a growth and decay cycle, repeated over and over, which seems anything but ‘progressive’. Reductions in economic growth will only impair our ability to develop the needed solutions. References to selfishness and such ignore the stupendous benefits economic growth has afforded what we earlier referred to as the undeveloped or underdeveloped parts of the world.

    • You mean shifting poverty from location A to location C? As one middle class grows another falls. There are over 1 billion people living on less than 3 dollars a day; is that a stupendous benefit?

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    • And still for our selfish needs (why preserving nature might have to be an apparent end in itself), humans learned from nature probably more than from any other source, for things like medicine & technology & for the advancement of science in general.

  12. “Does an understanding of the limitations of probabilistic modelling constitute a mental illness? Answer: Yes
    “Should I be committed to treatment to “cure” me of my beliefs?” Answer: No. Because you wrote this article you are obviously uncurable. Yet, depending on your state of health, some of your organs may be of use to the collective. For this you should be grateful. On your knees!

  13. Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. –Albert Einstein

    Albert was surely refering to wackos like Comrade Norgaard.

  14. we need to quit looking at the cosmos in 2d or black&white it is more exciting then that.
    Earth Is Not Orbiting The Sun – YouTube
    .

  15. A new Dinosaur was discovered in China. A ancestral relative of Tyranosaurus Rex. It lived millions of years before, and had an insulating downy feather covering to keep warm.

    If the world was hotter, then colder then hotter, then colder, before fossil fuels were burned, doesn’t that imply that man made climate change is not real.

    Someone who is a climate change scientist, please explain where my thinking is wrong, as this throws up some interesting questions.

    LIke I have said, taxing carbon taxes the necessities of life. If people can’t work, or there are no capital gains, the politicians have to tax the necessities. That is why Politicians are pushing this Carbon lie.

    • that new ice age may be 50,000 years away if not 500,000.

      That point is at odds with recent history, where the Earth has been dominated by glacial periods with only narrow 10,000 year interglacials. I don’t deny the possibility (especially given the amount of CO2 we pump out) but the notion of a 50,000 year or 500,000 year interglacial would be a pretty big black swan.

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  22. The people who say we have man made global warming are the same ones who pursue credit based economic growth through fractional reserve banking, they are the ones who promote consumerism and have built in obsolescence for products.

    Malthus was wrong when he said food grows at an arithmetic rate and populations grow at a geometric rate because…rabbits, cows, goats etc. are food as well as populations. For instance hemp is supposed to be a wonderful plant, capable of providing us with many useful products, its growth cycle and plant itself is also environmentally friendly, yet it is highly regulated by governments and many people argue it is because of the competition with cotton and other producers that hemp is regulated.

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  24. I agree with Aziz on this one.

    To think that nature would perish and die if humand don’t ACT NOW AND ACT FAST! shows how self-conceited our species is. We used to think the universe revolved around the earth because … well, that’s where humans live right? People tend to forget how little and small humans are in the great tapistry of nature. I would like to think that humans are special, and precious and play an important role in nature, but what do I know?

    Nature will live on, with our without humans. Any green-think zealots cannot deny this.

    As far as human’s habitat being in danger (which is really what they are concerned about) – how do they know that the changes that are happening (if there are any) aren’t ultimately going to be good for humans? What if the warming of the earth were to ultimately create a new jet-stream that would circle the earth and bring water to the world’s deserts? What if the increased CO2 levels were to bring about a new wonder-plant that processes twice as much CO2, grows in a larger range of climates, and (who knows) could even provide us with the template for a much more efficient solar panels?

    Who are we to know what will happen? It’s not even about blue swans or black swans, its just about us admitting to ourselves that we are not the end-all-be-all of the universe, and that we should understand the place we play in it – one that is fairly small at this point.

    • Maybe you should take some biology classes! One of the main concerns many scientists have, as a biology professor of mine illustrated in one of my classes, is the speed at which changes are occurring and the ability for species to adapt to those changes. No one worth listening to is claiming that nature would perish and die if humans don’t do something; that is just your fantasy so you can somehow deny the science behind climate change. What the scientists are concerned about is how climate change will affect every living thing on earth. If species can’t adapt to changes fast enough they will not survive.

      So the nonsense you spewed in that middle paragraph speaks for itself. The scientists are concerned species won’t adapt fast enough to the increased levels of CO2.

      Oh wait. Why am I trusting my professor and the scientists? They are all just paid shills for the state! I guess you’re right! Disregard my post.

      • What the scientists are concerned about is how climate change will affect every living thing on earth. If species can’t adapt to changes fast enough they will not survive.

        That’s how evolution works: nature throws pressures at species, the fittest relative to the pressures survive and pass on their genes.

        I tend to believe nature has an internal tendency toward volatility, and thus throws stress at herself to make herself stronger. In this case, we are the stressor.

        Nature gave humans large brains and a huge capacity to reproduce. Nature gave us huge energy reserves buried in the ground and the capacity to burn these to create productivity, adding CO2 to the air.

        Nature also gave us the capacity to consider that maybe all of this is a danger to our species, and to other species. Right now, the outcome is up in the air, but I am sure that whatever nature desires, we shall supply.

        By the way, I have been friends with a lot of biologists, and I have never yet met one who took Darwin’s ideas to their full implications… That implies to me that this is not a matter of biology, but a matter of philosophy.

        • Aziz you are sorta muddying up my point with a lot of red herrings, like the point you make in your last paragraph – the nuances of Darwin’s theory are irrelevant to the adaptive speed of a given species. But you agree with the crux of my argument all the same. The point is that we humans are adding stress, as you said, and if we want to survive as a species we should be wary of climate change. That’s all I’m saying. I just don’t see how encouraging people to be overly skeptical of climate change helps anyone. It’s not like all the solutions are agreed upon – they certainly don’t have to look like Kary Noorgards!

        • As I’ve said all along I really do favour transition to a low-carbon economy as soon as realistically (i.e. without coercion or Norgaardism). And yes, adding carbon is adding a stressor. My point (which I do not think is fully appreciated by the scientific community yet) is that there are many upsides as well as downsides to this stressor in both the long and short term.

        • I tend to believe nature has an internal tendency toward volatility, and thus throws stress at herself to make herself stronger. In this case, we are the stressor. Nature gave humans large brains and a huge capacity to reproduce. Nature gave us huge energy reserves buried in the ground and the capacity to burn these to create productivity, adding CO2 to the air. Nature also gave us the capacity to consider that maybe all of this is a danger to our species, and to other species. Right now, the outcome is up in the air, but I am sure that whatever nature desires, we shall supply. By the way, I have been friends with a lot of biologists, and I have never yet met one who took Darwin’s ideas to their full implications… That implies to me that this is not a matter of biology, but a matter of philosophy.

          To be honest, I don’t understand much of what you have just said John. Then again, I might have a mental defect like Taleb suggested some people have (this is a fact I’m seriously considering and keeping in the back of my mind). But what is not clear can be made clearer if it is true – so maybe you could elaborate on those concepts in some future posts. But to answer to what I think I understand, the whole process you’re describing is a process I think is much more brutal, meaningless, purposeless, harsh and with unpredictable results and discontinuous catastrophes at every step.

          PS: I remember Taleb was at some point sick about finance and decided to preoccupy himself with how we should deal with climate change in the face of uncertainty – but then he got sidetracked by his “antifragility” endeavor. I wonder whether he’ll come back to dealing with the climate – or maybe his latest book will still contain his thoughts on this matter…

        • “As I’ve said all along I really do favour transition to a low-carbon economy as soon as realistically (i.e. without coercion or Norgaardism). And yes, adding carbon is adding a stressor. My point (which I do not think is fully appreciated by the scientific community yet) is that there are many upsides as well as downsides to this stressor in both the long and short term.”

          Fair enough!

        • Maybe you could elaborate on those concepts in some future posts.

          I will try.

          PS: I remember Taleb was at some point sick about finance and decided to preoccupy himself with how we should deal with climate change in the face of uncertainty – but then he got sidetracked by his “antifragility” endeavor. I wonder whether he’ll come back to dealing with the climate – or maybe his latest book will still contain his thoughts on this matter…

          Taleb came under very heavy influence from John N. Gray who is a big Gaiaist. The interesting thing about antifragility is that if you take it to its logical conclusions (as I am trying to) it says an awful lots of interesting things about the climate. It is quite possible that climate change will take care of itself without enlightened individuals in the blogosphere worrying about it. Either by insurance pressures, or by nature…

        • And by the way, Andrei, I don’t think you have a mental defect. I have a lot of respect for you. I don’t agree with Taleb in pathologising people he disagrees with, which is exactly what this entire post was against…

      • Change happens and change has always happened. When people go about telling me that change is happening “faster” now, or that change is “more intense” now I just shrug. Who are you to say change is happening faster now? You mean having glaciers over all of north america melt in a matter of a few thousand years (THAT is fast change) is pale compared to what is happening now? Do you know how fast water levels rose just a few thousand years ago due to that change? Most of Alexandria is under water now – THAT is fast change too isn’t it? Calm down and take a breather – it’s going to be okay.

        What your professor is likely bringing up is the fact that this new change MIGHT be a problem. That’s what humans do – they look a history, extrapolate and look at current data to try and determine what will happen in the future. 99% of the time they are wrong. It’s just the way it is.

        As for yoru concerns about CO2 levels affecting humans – you make it sound like the human race might suffocate in 10 years time. Relax – did your professor happen to tell you when the levels would become toxic to humans at the current rate of increase? Say (i’m guessing here) that fateful event would be 600-700 years from now, don’t you think that a wee bit too long to start panicking? Who knows what will happen in that period of time – CO2 encourages plant growth.

        my 2 cents, and you will disagree and that’s your perogative.

        • I disagree because you are making baseless assertions, and you seem to want to believe nothing bad will happen because it makes you feel good. I am perfectly calm btw.

        • My apologies! Usually, when one is worried or deeply concerned about something happening, one can hardly be calm at the same time. I had assumed incorrectly.

          As for me feeling good – sure. Humanity is more resilient that you might think – some major events have happened in the last 2 thousand years – imagine living during the black death in europe, where ONE THIRD of the population died off. I’m sure most thought armageddon was in the midst of happening – but look, we survived, and thrived.

          Small increases in CO2 (that have been happening ever since humans started agriculture BTW) are a pretty minor event. I am more worried about GMO foods affecting our metabolisms or a war with Iran disrupting world supply of oil (not to mention maybe a world war?). Those things prevent me from being calm.

        • “My apologies! Usually, when one is worried or deeply concerned about something happening, one can hardly be calm at the same time. I had assumed incorrectly.

          As for me feeling good – sure. Humanity is more resilient that you might think – some major events have happened in the last 2 thousand years – imagine living during the black death in europe, where ONE THIRD of the population died off. I’m sure most thought armageddon was in the midst of happening – but look, we survived, and thrived.

          Small increases in CO2 (that have been happening ever since humans started agriculture BTW) are a pretty minor event. I am more worried about GMO foods affecting our metabolisms or a war with Iran disrupting world supply of oil (not to mention maybe a world war?). Those things prevent me from being calm.”

          God I hope you’re right! I hope the environ guys are wrong or misinterpreting something because it sounds scary.

      • My personal opinion is that the entire environmental fad is just another way for multinational organizations like the UN to weaken national borders. If they could agree on a supra-national comittee to oversee the issue, that sets the precedent.

        National governments are also happy to jump on the bandwaggon since it justifies additional taxes on things like gas and on industry in general. British columbia in Canada alread imposes a carbon tax on gas at the pump. What is done with this money is completely unknown to me – but i’m sure some of it funds green-think zealot research. It’s a vicious cycle really, more carbon taxes lead to more research grants, who then lead to more taxes.

        But I think the globalization, and global regulation of carbon emissions is the real issue here. It’s a good way for multinations to get their foot in the door – Ie allowing them more power and control over national governments.

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  32. Dr. Norgaard never said anything like what is claimed. Limbaugh and some bozo from the blogosphere misinterpreted a description of her work written by someone else posted on the University of Oregon’s website. The word “treatment” used in the description is not from her paper and did not mean medical treatments anyway. Can’t any of you read well enough to parse a simple sentence. Or better yet, read the actual paper before you go non-linear and insult a worthy scientist who has done nothing wrong? One word from Limbaugh, who is an ignoramus with absolutely no scientific training nor much of an education to speak of, and all the zombie bots on the right go off the deep end with insults and accusations that make no sense. Those of you attacking Dr. Norgaard, please get some integrity!

    • Or better yet, read the actual paper before you go non-linear and insult a worthy scientist who has done nothing wrong?

      First, I fiercely disagree sociology is a scientific discipline; it is a pseudo-science steeped in the terminology without very much methodology.

      Second she did say that disbelievers are mentally ill (which of course is a description that is used frequently on both sides of the political spectrum), and I really do have a problem with that. It’s right out of the Bolshevik playbook to brand your dissenters are mentally ill.

      She is an insult to honest investigate climate scientists.

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  34. Kari Norgaard never said this and there is no way that this type of statement could be inferred from anything she has published. A quick search on google scholar and you can find her published work. Her most famous work is an ethnography in Norway in which everyone accepts the veracity of climate science but little is ever done about it. I was looking up her research and came across all these articles about a made up controversy……..its fine if you think climate science is part of a hoax or if you think all the social sciences (i.e. sociology, economics, psych, anthro, etc) are bogus wastes of time…….but making up stuff that people said is dishonest……

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